“After 10 years at Balmain, I realized I’m more than just a designer,” says creative director Olivier Rousteing. “I’m excited by storytelling beyond fashion.” So, of course, for Balmain’s fall 2021 campaign, the French designer partnered up with U.K. television network Channel 4 to create a drama series entitled Fracture starring singer-songwriter Jesse Jo Stark, 13 Reasons Why’s Tommy Dorfman, Riverdale’s Charles Melton, and Skate Kitchen’s Ajani Russell.
With Rousteing himself serving as creative director, the five episode miniseries will be the first time a brand has collaborated with a television broadcaster in this way. “What made this project so exciting is that we didn’t think much about fashion, the focus was on the characters and their experiences,” says the 35-year-old designer. “I cried when I saw some of the scenes and forgot about the clothes entirely.”
Set on the outskirts of Los Angeles at Le Rêve Motel, a desolate but charming hotspot for colorful characters, the show is led by Mya (Stark) a struggling singer-songwriter who’s fled her privileged life in New York. Apart from the cast dressed in dazzling Balmain fall 2021, what else can we expect? “You’re going to see a mix of strong personalities that represent a new generation fighting for their freedom,” says Rousteing. “I wanted to show that fashion cannot exist without the realities of our world.”
Ahead of the launch on September 2, Vogue caught up with Rousteing to hear about his experiences of creatively directing a TV series, why inclusivity should be the norm for every brand and what to expect from his upcoming music festival at Paris Fashion Week.
Hi Olivier! What compelled you to create a drama series and where does the title Fracture come from?
It’s a project I had in my mind for about four years, but it took so long to find the right team. Fashion presentations can be boring, so I love to create entertainment around it that goes further than clothes. All of the characters are going through their own fractures. I think, in a way, it’s what everyone is going through right now [with the pandemic], whether it’s within our work or personal life. But with every struggle, there’s always a solution.
What was the process like creatively directing a project in an unfamiliar medium?
It was a bit strange and there were many challenges—from the lighting to the way we worked with actors instead of models, it was totally different. The biggest change, for me, was that I had to focus on the reactions of the actors and how they’re going to move in something in a real life setting.
From Jesse Jo Stark, Tommy Dorfman, and Charles Melton to Ajani Russel—the casting highlights a mix of rising young talents. Why did you choose these names to represent Balmain?
It was a long casting process but we chose the actors that showed the most emotion and passion. I loved that each of them represented Balmain in their own unexpected way. I’m known for glamour and a French couture fantasy, but I think those four characters showed that there is another side of Balmain in me, as well.
Not only was there diverse casing, but gender identity is also represented in the series. Why is it important for brands to be inclusive in today’s world?
It’s always been so normal for me [to be inclusive], but it feels like it might be newer to others. Gender identity has always been part of the world. We’re all just out here trying to find ourselves. The choices that I make in fashion, I hope, can help change some mindsets, even in a small way.
And the clothes were phenomenal, as always. What was the process of pairing looks with talent and what connection does the collection have with the show?
It was not complicated, I let the actors choose what they wanted to wear from a proposition of about 10 looks each, which I thought was really cool. We sent things with little guidelines in advance to make sure that they felt confident in everything. There’s a strong sense of freedom and adventure that ties the collection in with the series.
What TV shows did you watch growing up and what shows have you binged recently?
I watched a lot of the original 90210 series, which I loved but there was quite a lack of diversity. I also enjoyed Queer As Folk, Skins, Gossip Girl, and Sex and the City. Recently, I’ve been obsessed with The Handmaid’s Tale and Elite [the Spanish thriller series on Netflix].
Fashion month is coming up soon. What can we look forward to with Balmain in September for SS22?
It’s going to be the most inclusive show of my career. The casting is going to be incredible, plus there’ll be amazing performers and surprises throughout. It’s for my 10 year anniversary at Balmain, so my team and I have been planning this throughout our summer holidays. As always, we’re looking beyond fashion.
Fracture will be available from September 2 on Channel 4’s All4 in the U.K. and globally on www.fractureseries.com